What's In A Mane?
Natural medicine's approach is to find the causes of any health problem and treat the causes, not just treat the symptoms with a drug. Natural health care, focusing on prevention, aims to find biochemical weakness and use supplementation before the weakness becomes a clinical problem. As you will read in this article, a hair mineral analysis offers both prevention and treatment.
Calcium is needed for healthy bones and joints.
Is your horse deficient in calcium?
Selenium is needed to prevent cancer.
Is your horse deficient in selenium?
Among the many advantages of a hair-mineral analysis is its accuracy in revealing the tissue levels of minerals in the horse.
Zinc is needed for proper digestion, for fertility, for the immune system, etc.
Is your horse deficient in zinc?
Many people are feeding supplements. Are they needed? Are they being absorbed? Are you feeding too much of one supplement so it interferes with another mineral?
Are you concerned about toxins like mercury, lead, aluminum or arsenic in your horse?
If you want to find the answers to these questions, to find the nutritional status of your horse, what can you do?
Many questions. Important questions. First some background and then some answers.
Feeding the proper foods in a balanced program is important, but that is just the first step in obtaining proper tissue levels of essential minerals in your horse. There are very few animals that are genetically perfect, so even if you provide the perfect food in the correct amount, absorption of the nutrients varies as much as a horse's appearance varies. 'Nutritional needs vary greatly depending upon species, age, size, physiological state and biochemical individuality. In the case of certain nutrients, some individual animals may require from 2 to 10 times as much as others in a group,' noted Dr. Williams, recognized for his studies of biochemical individuality. He also noted that nutritional supplements are often used because they '… not only enhance recovery from stress, illness and injury but also help prevent the onset of many degenerative diseases such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, gastrointestinal problems, and skin disorders.'
Drs. Volhard and Brown in their writing on holistic animal care noted, 'Minerals make up less than 2% of any formulated diet and yet they are the most critical of nutrients.' Excess or deficiency of minerals can be fatal, but most often the deficiencies or excesses are a significant factor in health conditions.
If you are providing your horse with supplements, any supplementation must be balanced as each mineral affects the levels of others. Also, the bioavailability of the supplement is important. As an example, some calcium supplements are less than 5% absorbed, while other forms are over 90% absorbed. Consideration must also be given to toxins, as they affect the absorption of nutrients.
With all these variables what are you to do? You want to take the best care of your horse, but how do you know if supplements are needed, which ones and how much??
Basically, to find out what and how much your horse needs, first you must determine his current mineral levels.
Let's assume you want to determine the level of selenium or calcium, or maybe you are concerned about toxins. Three specimens - blood, urine or hair - are commonly available. (Of course the best way is to take a number of biopsies of the tissues sensitive to the body's levels of various minerals. Liver biopsy is best to determine the level of copper; a lung or brain biopsy for aluminum; bone biopsy for lead; eardrum for zinc; heart tissue for selenium; muscle tissue for calcium; etc. This may be the best but… besides ending up with one very 'hole'y horse, there would be the cost of obtaining and analyzing the tissues.)
So, let's explore how to obtain answers to the mineral levels in your horse using blood, urine or hair.
Blood analysis for minerals - strengths and weaknesses: The mineral analysis of blood basically shows what minerals are circulating at that time. The body endeavors to maintain blood mineral levels in a 'normal' level. An example is calcium. If your horse has insufficient calcium, the blood levels are increased, using calcium from the bone. This results in osteoporosis. So, measuring blood calcium does not tell you much information about the tissue levels. For some minerals like iron, as the animal depletes tissue stores, often the blood iron level goes up. With magnesium, blood levels are almost always low regardless of tissue levels if there are any allergies. Selenium, lithium and many minerals in the blood are reflective of tissue levels although usually not very sensitively. With lead, mercury, cadmium etc, the blood is usually reflective of recent exposure but not tissue levels unless there is a long-term consistent exposure. The veterinarian's cost to do tests for the 18 minerals in the blood that are reflective of tissue levels would exceed $700 and involve several visits.
Urine analysis for minerals - strengths and weaknesses: A urine mineral analysis shows what your horse has absorbed and is presently wasting. Urine minerals are not reflective of tissue levels unless provocative testing is done with a drug being infused into your horse to mobilize a specific mineral. Measuring that mineral in the urine would provide an indication of tissue levels of that mineral. To get an indication of the tissue levels of the 20 minerals in the urine, which can be reflective of tissue levels, would involve 7 office visits and many laboratory tests. The veterinarian's costs for the tests would exceed $1,100.
Hair analysis for minerals - strengths and weaknesses: The greatest strength of hair analysis is its sensitivity. The greatest weakness of hair analysis is its sensitivity. The weakness is the test's sensitivity to external contamination from shampoos, hair treatments and some exposures. Its strength is its accuracy through its sensitivity to the tissue levels in the horse.
Hair 'treatments' can increase the reported levels of a mineral. In working with female humans this is a major problem due to perms, dyes and bleaches. With the nonhuman animal this is a problem for less than 10% of the tests. However, this contamination is easily recognized by looking at the reported levels of minerals that are sensitive to this type of contamination. Those minerals are titanium, nickel, aluminum and copper. When looking at elevated aluminum, if the level of iron is not similarly elevated then there is a probability that the elevated aluminum is due to external contamination. If there are elevated levels of lead and/or cadmium and the zinc, calcium and magnesium are not affected, there is a probability the reported levels of the toxin are a contaminant to the outside of the hair.
The strength of hair mineral analysis is its sensitivity to tissue levels. The levels of minerals in the hair are not maintained in a homeostatious range like blood. An example is calcium in the hair where reported levels of calcium will be out of the 'normal' range years before any clinical symptom. In a study of humans, the levels of minerals in the hair suggesting cardiac problems were noted as much as two years before clinical symptoms appeared. This is very desirable if you want to prevent health problems.
Another strength of hair mineral analysis is that the minerals in the hair are more concentrated than in other parts of the body. An extreme example of this is mercury, which is 200 times more concentrated in the hair than in any other part of the body. This is very important as levels of minerals in the body are often in parts per trillion. (One part per trillion is like one minute in 2,000,000 years or one inch in 16,000,000 miles.) When analyzing the hair, aluminum cannot be in the analytical room as at room temperature, aluminum evaporates enough to contaminate the results.
Hair analysis reports an indication of tissue mineral levels for 24 minerals. Although the report is of 32 minerals, 8 of the reported minerals (sodium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and several others) in the hair do not correlate with the levels of that mineral in the body. Iodine is another mineral where the level of iodine in the hair does not correlate with that in the tissue. Hair iodine, though, is very important, as it is an excellent indicator of thyroid function.
The cost of a hair test for 24 minerals is $96 - much different than testing blood for the 18 minerals for $700 or urine of 20 minerals for $1,100. That is the reason we speak of the hair test offering a 'new dimension in health care'.
What is a hair analysis?
It is taking .25 grams of hair (about a heaping teaspoon full) from the mane of a horse near the poll and sending this to a laboratory. The laboratory washes the hair, dries it, and then weighs it very accurately. The hair is then made into a liquid by use of nitric acid. This liquid is then analyzed on a mass spectrograph which analyzes the levels of mineral like sulfur in parts per million, some minerals like copper in parts per billion and many minerals like chromium, selenium, mercury, and antimony in parts per trillion.
The results of the analysis of the hair of your horse are then compared to a reference range. In setting a reference range for humans, two-thirds of a population must be in the reference range. Too often the reference range is based on a population of people sick enough to go to a doctor. With nonhuman animals there is not this requirement. In establishing the reference ranges for horses it would be nice to have studies of hundreds of healthy horses - horses with no clinical or non-clinical problems, with no familiar history of any degenerative diseases. These studies just are not available. Nor can you take the levels of show or performance or racehorses as optimal. Most of the time the hair test of these animals shows they are severely stressed and have deficiencies of minerals from this stress. (The hair test of an Olympiad female is often similar to a female in her 60s or 70's.)
A further complication of establishing a reference range is there can be differences in mineral levels in hair dependent upon the color of the hair and breed. These differences appear to be small compared to the difference in hair levels of sick and healthy animals though. The specimen needs to be taken from the poll, as there is some difference in mineral levels dependent upon where the specimen is taken.
How were the reference ranges established?
This was done by using the analysis of a number of 'healthy' horses as a start and then refining the range by the levels of horses that were sick in a specific way. Allergic horses have depressed hair manganese. To refine the lower reference number for manganese we looked at horses that were allergic and horses that were not allergic. Horses with insufficient zinc will have digestive and other problems. So examining the hair zinc levels of horses with and without digestive problems provides information on the lower reference number for zinc. Until there are tests on hundreds of healthy horses, this will be the procedure. (I did a study of 250,000 humans looking at levels of hair minerals by age, gender, race and hair color after eliminating the 150,000 specimens where there was contamination.) By making the reference ranges broader than they will be some time in the future, a range was established which has been found to work.
A hair analysis report contains a cover sheet with the results for your horse compared to a reference range, then several pages of commentary about the minerals with any deviations and a veterinarian's page listing possible courses of action.
What are we finding in the hair tests?
Very often we find some toxins: lead, arsenic, antimony, aluminum and uranium. In the cases of lead and uranium and often with arsenic, the source of the toxin is from some exposure: eating feed grown near a road, being in an older barn (for lead), cribbing on treated wood (a source of arsenic). Often uranium comes from drinking water. Antimony, aluminum and often arsenic are most commonly from an inability of the horse to detoxicate, and not from a large exposure. If a horse is unable to eliminate a toxin, even with a very low level of exposure, the tissue levels accumulate and can become significant. And toxins in very small amounts do affect a horse's health.
We are commonly finding calcium and magnesium deficiencies and maldepositions with the resulting bone, joint and digestive problems. Also we are seeing their deficiencies associated with a depressed sulfur and selenium with laminitis patients. [Results of 5 tests will be discussed in an upcoming issue.] Often zinc deficiencies are seen with the resulting GI, immune, weight, dermatitis, fertility, and liver problems. Many toxins in very small amounts will affect the zinc levels. Cancer and immune problems will most often falsely elevate the calcium and zinc and depress the copper and selenium. Cardiac patients almost always are wasting magnesium, causing an elevated calcium to magnesium ratio. Most often the magnesium levels are below the reference range.
Now why is hair mineral analysis a basic part of a natural health program?
As noted to begin with, a natural health program for an animal involves finding and treating the cause of any current health problem (compared to treating the symptom with a drug), and finding biochemical weaknesses and taking action to reduce possible future health problems (compared to waiting until there are clinical problems and then treating those symptoms). That is what a hair mineral analysis offers.
For more information:
For those interested in further information, for literature references, information about toxins, and for correlations between minerals and health, please go to www.Pettest.net or call 877-252-2637.